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Lidia Bastianich at Santa Clara University

Last night (March 7, 2017) I had the opportunity to see Lidia Bastianich speak at Santa Clara University. Lidia has a successful career as an author, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and beloved Public Television host and chef.

Lidia Bastianich spoke with two Santa Clara University employees. They were Dorian Llywelyn and Jeffrey Bracco.

Lidia Bastianich on stage at SCU   Lidia Bastianich at SCu

The topic was Food, Family and Italian Culture. The program highlighted the importance of the family table to Italian culture,  including food preparation, traditions, conversation, politics, and hospitality.

Here are some of the ideas Lidia Bastianich, Dorian and Jeffrey shared with the audience:

The table is where people gather, and food is the base of gatherings. It is the conduit to family. In today’s fast-paced American lifestyle, we need to get back together. Food is an important part of building community. Food is more than just nutrition. It is a way to communicate and connect with community.

When Lidia is share her cooking experience on PBS she feels she’s touching people and empowering them to cook. She takes pride in knowing that her flavors have entered into their lives. She believes this ability is a gift that was given to her, and that gift made her who she is. She strongly feels that her gift of cooking is not just her own but that it needs to be shared with others.

Lidia had a PBS special called Lidia Celebrates America. She traveled around the U.S. and featured four different ethnic families and their foods. What she discovered is how much Americans have a love of Italy! She feels like a conduit between her Italian native culture and her adopted, American culture.

Lidia is an immigrant who came to this country when she was 12 years old. When people immigrate, they bring their food culture with them. It’s the last thing they lose from their old lifestyles. That is why there are so many different foods in this country. But one difference Lidia mentioned is that in Italy the raw ingredients, the product is what makes the food. If you don’t have the products you cannot make great food. She said that when she began cooking true Italian food rather than American Italian food is when she got noticed by the likes of James Beard and Julia Child.

She said that Julia Child came to her because she wanted to learn how to make a good risotto. She invited Lidia to do two shows with her on PBS, and from there encouraged Lidia to produce her own shows on PBS. Julia was the reason Lidia started on PBS.

What nourishes her most is going back to Italy and eating in the homes and small restaurants through the 17 regions. Lidia has spent her entire life studying Italy, it’s culture, foods and changing lifestyle. She wants to be on the cutting edge, and so visits Italy 4 or 5 times a year to keep abreast of what is happening in her home country. She visits different regions of Italy depending on the time of year, taking into account when various seasonal products are in at their peak.

In America there is too much food that is big industry food. Today many people, especially in the coastal regions have developed a consciousness about quality, seasonal foods. there has been a movement to desire seasonal products from small farms. When we eat foods that are out of season, there are huge environmental costs associated with this lifestyle. She encourages us to put our money where our mouth is and spend it wisely. This is how we can get back to eating locally and seasonally.

She spoke about the Eatily stores that she has helped open in New York, Boston and Chicago. She is currently opening a new Eatily in Century City in the Los Angeles area and plans to open one in San Francisco some time in 2018. These Italian shopping experiences have a piazza in the center to encourage community. Come sit and sip a wine or taste Italian cuisine, or shop and bring home Italian ingredients to make a meal at home. I remember going to Eatily in New York several years ago while visiting family.

Lidia was asked about her experiences cooking for two popes, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. With Pope Benedict she was asked to come into the home where he was staying and cook all his meals for 2½ days. She says that each time she was asked to cook for the popes, she did research to find out about their lifestyles, their country of origin and the foods that they ate. She enjoyed touching the human elements of each pope that she was blessed to cook for.

What it comes down to for Lidia is to cook simple meals, and if the product is good, half the work is done! Lidia had so much more to share, I hope that some day you will have the pleasure of meeting her in person and hearing her speak.

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